Alan glared at the two men in the mirror, disgust and jealously fighting for prominent emotion on his face. Part of him was glad he was not as drunk as them,
Has one of them wet themselves? whilst a larger part was wishing he wasn't the designated driver.
‘Alright lads, let's keep it down.’ He cried out, giving jealously the top seat at the table of emotions. They were on their way home from what had almost been the most uninteresting party Alan had ever attended, although this was mostly down to the fact he was driving and still had music ringing in his ears. He glanced back in the mirror at the man directly behind him and jealousy was knocked out of its chair, temporarily, for anger.
Carl has pissed himself! Alan thought as a grin first spread across his face; until he remembered it was his car he'd pissed in. The two party goers in the back continued to ignore Alan's request as he brought his attention back to the road.
‘Hey Carl, did you see how many shots I’d downed? I must have drunk most of Mike’s whiskey. Not that the pissed-up old fart noticed.’ Carl shook his head in disagreement, eyes drooping heavily. ‘Ha! Your chat-up line failed, too!’ He shouted too loud, before pointing at Alan’s face. ‘That bird slapped Alan good an’ proper!’ Carl flushed red.
'Not my fault, Steve. Alan shouldn't have got involved when the master was at work!' He replied causing Steve to burst into gut wrenching laughter.
'Mah-Mah-Mah.' Steve stammered through tears before belching the car to silence. 'The only master you are will be the one bating on your own tonight.' Carl looked on in confusion as Steve fell into another round of laughter. Even Alan cracked a smile, despite the pain it caused him, as he thought back to the party they were driving rapidly away from.
Carl had approached her two hours after they had arrived and long after he’d had his first pint of Dutch courage and whiskey chaser. He’d been giving her the eye most of the night and had even smiled at her, once, Alan had noted.
Alan had watched with a smirk on his face as Carl staggered drunkenly towards the object of his affection, on more than one occasion. Each time he'd obviously thought better of it - if thinking was even possible with the amount of alcohol in his blood stream - before staggering back to Alan and Steve.
'She wants me, I know she does. Who wouldn't?' Carl asked Alan, slurring every word and leaning in a little too close for his liking.
Drunk people are such fucking fun. Alan thought to himself, sighing.
'No, you're a real catch, mate. She'd be a fool to turn you down. If I was a woman, I'd do you.' Steve chimed in, patting Carl on the shoulder. Carl smiled in discomfort before looking back at Alan for clarification.
'Yeah, you two would make a cute couple.' Alan replied with humour in his voice, hiding the smile that was growing on his lips with his drink. 'In fact, I'm surprised it’s taken this long for you two to declare your love for one another. It's sweet.'
'Fuck you, Alan!' Carl thundered back. Steve, looking slightly taken aback by the rejection, removed his hand from Carl's shoulder. 'Fuck it, she's alone. Wish her luck boys. The tiger's going in for the kill.'
'Good luck with that, Carl. You'll need it, not her.' Alan said with a smile before watching Carl stagger towards his prey; the exact way a tiger wouldn’t.
'I'm not gay, you know.' Steve muttered to himself, eyes downcast.
'I know, mate. It wouldn't matter if you were.' Alan smiled offering support, but Steve seemed lost in his own thoughts.
'I mean, it was one time. And I didn't push back. It's not gay if you don't push back.' Steve was clearly trying to convince himself of something and Alan wasn't sure this was a story he wanted to overhear.
'I'm going to grab a drink, want a re-fill?' Alan shook his empty glass at Steve, ice cubs clinking against each other. When Steve didn't reply Alan took the empty can from his limp hands and went to get him another.
Perhaps something a little stronger for Steve, he thought to himself, walking towards the drinks table. As Alan neared the table he noticed Carl's target was stood alone by the table after making herself a fresh drink. Alan picked up a bottle of coke and a fresh glass, listening in to a tiger at work.
Carl cleared his throat and nothing happened. He tried again and still she didn't turn around. Alan smirked as he began to fill the empty glass with flat cola. Carl tapped her on the shoulder and stepped around to meet her gaze as she turned.
‘Did it hurt when you fell from the Heavens?’ Carl asked; Alan, recognising his charm turned up to maximum, nearly dropped the half empty bottle of cola. Nothing else happened. The woman just stood there staring at Carl, disgust clearly plastered across her face as if Carl had handed her a love note made entirely of macaroni and faeces. Alan took a quick glance at Carl's face and realised Carl wasn't seeing it. Finally, Carl's face dropped; along with the penny.
Unlucky, tiger. Seems this kill is out of your league. Alan thought, laughing to himself, as he added vodka to Steve’s drink.
‘Because it looks like you landed on your face!’ Carl shouted. At this rebuke Alan did drop the drink he was making.
Easy tiger! Fuck it, I better step in.
'Is everything okay here?' Alan asked, stepping between Carl and the woman before turning to offer her a sympathetic smile. 'Come on Carl, let's...' Alan never got chance to finish his sentence. The woman reacted like a hive of angry bees to an intruding foot and launched an attack; an attack that Alan had just unwittingly stepped in the way of. With a thrust of a glass of red wine with her left hand, and a blow a boxer would be proud of with her right, Alan was knocked for six. Red wine flooded his nostrils and eyes; stinging both sensory organs and spreading confusion. When the open palm struck his left cheek, however, Alan realised that the wine was a mere aperitif of things to come and that he was in receivership of Carls’ deserved assault.
Well this is unfortunate. Alan thought dryly as he rocked backwards on his heels and saw stars. Flames danced along his nerve endings, raced through his nervous system, and delighted in telling his brain that he may have possibly just fucked up.
'Oh shit, I'm so sorry.' Alan heard faintly, sounds coming through as if he was underwater. 'I meant to hit this little cockroach.'
'Cockroach?! My cock is like a roach, big, fat and perfect for going between lips. You stuck-up...'
'Enough!' Screamed Alan; too loud for his freshly pounding head.
For fuck's sake, what have I got myself into? He thought in misery. A crowd was beginning to gather, including a gaggle of women busying themselves about Alan’s attacker.
'Come on Carl, let's go.' Alan uttered, thunder rolling across his stinging face. He grabbed Carl by the collar and dragged him back towards Steve, who had missed the entire scene. As they re-joined him he looked up, concern on his face.
'Hey, guys? It's not gay if you don't push back, is it?'
The rest of the party had been uneventful. Carl and Steve continued to knock drinks back whilst Alan stood there with his flat colas. Every now and then the finer points of homosexuality were discussed further, not that any of the conversations were helping Steve look any more relieved.
I wish I was back home with Mary, Alan though, watching ice float in his bubble-less cola and wishing it was possible for flat cola to ferment. It’s our ten year anniversary, next month. It had been the happiest day of his life; at least that’s what he tells everyone. If truth be told the happiest day of his life had been the day his football team had won the league for the first time, he’d dropped the bandit in his local pub, and he had managed to pull the bar-maid that he’d had his eye on for almost six months. Still, that’s not something you say when asked on the evening of your wedding, and when your wife isn’t that bar-maid. He thought with a rueful smile.
The three of them left the party at midnight, Steve and Carl using each other for drunken support and Alan cursing the cold wind that heaped more misery on his throbbing cheek. Settling himself into the Volvo’s comfy seat for the two hour journey home Alan’s mood had continued to darken. Steve and Carl had snuck out a bottle of wine for the journey and Carl slipped it out of his coat now that they were safely inside the car.
‘Steve! This is fucking vermouth!’ Carl shouted in astonishment. Steve took the bottle off Carl and stared at it in disbelief.
‘What the Hell? Why did you sneak out a bottle of vermouth? Sod it, where are those cans of Bud?’ He finally asked before tossing the bottle onto the parcel shelf behind him.
And now they're both snoring! Alan thought as his mind, and attention, returned back to the present. Alan glanced at his watch with growing unease. He was nervous because he had a big deal to close in the morning, well, in a few hours.
I need to persuade them to stretch their budget by another 50k. That house on Hill Crescent is perfect for them, but maybe I should let them know about the damp. And can they the really afford it? He thought to himself, eyes heavy but still alert. Alan was under pressure to get this sale as an Estate Agent with a conscience, whilst being rare, was not a commodity. It should be picked up in the searches but it is sometimes missed...
Something dug into his chest pocket, pressed down by the seatbelt and distracting him from his thoughts. Reaching inside, car swerving slightly, he pulled out a small white bottle and smiled,
‘Mary, you beauty!’ Alan shouted aloud, not caring if he woke his snoozing passengers. He remembered her concern for his safety this morning and her exact words:
‘Tiredness can kill’. Admittedly, she was just repeating the government warnings positioned on the sides of motorways, but it was thoughtful nonetheless. Cracking the seal on the container Alan dry swallowed two of the off-blue tablets, focus back on the road before him and his stinging face. The tablets had a hole through the centre, similar to Polos, only the hole was heart shaped; not that any of this registered in his mind. Alan had never seen Pro Plus tablets before but then again he'd never seen his wife’s Valium tablets either.
It was the constant juddering from the central reservation that woke Alan, eyes snapping wide open. It was a shame really as he was quite enjoying his drug-induced dream; at least in the beginning. He’d sealed the deal with the couple buying property through him and he'd even managed to get them to extend their budget by close to a million pounds. This had resulted in a commission fee in the hundreds of thousands and so he and Mary had moved house to the sea front, when all of a sudden an earthquake hit. As he struggled to stop his brand new plasma TV from falling off the wall, the living-room was split in two and Mary fell down an ever-widening chasm. Flames leapt through the crack and began licking around Alan’s feet when what Alan could only assume was the devil climbed out. Dusting loose stones from its fur-lined goat legs the devil flashed Alan a wicked grin and gestured to take his place in restraining the jiggling TV. Dumbfounded Alan stepped away and the devil took hold of the plasma.
'Thanks?' Alan asked with a tremor in his voice, 'Is it my time now?' They locked eyes and without moving his lips Alan heard Satan’s voice deep within the darkest recesses of his mind
Oh no it’s not your time yet, Alan. Not for, oohh, another two minutes. Fear had then chased Alan from his dreaming and he awoke to a cotton mouth, a shaking car, and screaming. Looking for the source of the sound he saw Steve and Carl, wide eyed and shouting noisily, staring straight ahead. Following their gaze he saw they were no longer on the right side of the road, and then the menacing lights of a lorry that were beaming through the windshield. Alan desperately tried to swerve out of the way but in crossing the central reservation the tyres had picked up mud and the steering was unresponsive. By the time Alan realised all of this it was too late to join in with the screaming, unfortunately, because his two minutes were up.
The panic attack finally subsided as the memories of his death ebbed away with them. Alan glanced around in confusion and found himself lying flat on his back and feeling sand beneath his fingertips. Sitting upright and stretching, he rubbed his eyes and looked at the scene before him.
Brighton Beach? He thought as he stared at the shoreline. The tide was going out and by the looks of things so were his shoes. Ah shit! He thought as he staggered slowly to his feet; swearing every time he stepped on a shell as he went to retrieve them from the ocean’s grip. Bending to scoop the sea drenched footwear Alan noticed his bare arms for the first time.
‘What are all these scars? When the Hell…’ Anguish flashed across his face as memories of red hot pokers, blood curdling screams, immense heat, and never ending queues for the coffee machine all danced across his mind.
‘Hell?’ He muttered to the ocean's swell before him, ‘What did I do to deserve damnation?’ Gulls overhead screeched out a chorus of responses but none that Alan could understand. As the flashbacks slowly began to diminish Alan fought against the memory of his death, pushing it down and locking it away behind a wall of blissful ignorance. Rolling down his shirt sleeves to hide the scars, before wrestling back his shoes from the sea's grip, Alan decided to pretend his death had never happened.